Putin Addresses the Chechen Nation in View of the Forthcoming Referendum

On Sunday, March 16, Chechen television broadcast the address of the President of the Russian Federation to the population of Chechnya.

The press service of the head of the Russian state has issued the full text of this address:

"Good Day,

"Today I address those who live in Chechnya and who hold the fate of the Chechen Republic dear. This is connected with the event which will take place already in the next few days. A referendum will be held in the republic on the draft Constitution and on the laws for electing the president and the parliament.

"It is really a historic moment, without exaggeration, for the people of Chechnya. For this will be the first national referendum. The Constitution, drafted by the Chechens themselves, has for the first time been submitted for the consideration and put to a national vote.

"Today, it is necessary to recall that the earlier started constitutional process was forcibly interrupted in 1991, and this marked the beginning of the Chechen tragedy. At that time, after the dissolution of the Supreme Soviet of Checheno-Ingushetia, the situation that arose in the republic led, in essence, to a civil war. And later - to an armed conflict lasting many years.

"The referendum is the most important step towards combating devastation. And it is also a step towards law and order. I am convinced: the Constitution, adopted by the people, is the foundation for a political settlement in Chechnya. Its approval will make it possible to elect a genuinely democratic authority resting on the confidence of the people.

"You know: many attempts have been made, and are being made now, to prevent the referendum from being held. Provocations and terrorist acts still continue in Chechnya. Their aim is to frighten the people. But it is only the people themselves have the right to decide their fate and to adopt their Constitution.

"The Chechen people will be able to put into practice this right on March 23.

"I understand that it is very difficult for people in Chechnya to live now. It is difficult to overcome the consequences of the tragedy which has not left a single family untouched. And we shall have to do much work together to finally overcome these consequences.

"However, through joint efforts - and I want specially to draw your attention to this - we have succeeded in changing the situation. And today's difficulties are different from those two years or even one year ago when open military operations were underway in the republic.

"Everyday life in Chechnya is gradually returning to normal, though maybe not as quickly as we would like. New electric transmission lines have been built in many districts, gas supplies are being restored. Hospitals and schools have been opened. Classes have resumed in educational establishments. Grain is being harvested.

"And only those who do not want to see these changes, do not see them.

"I agree that the life in Chechnya now looks more like life after a natural disaster. In the clan struggle for power and for money that lasted for many years, it was the ordinary Chechen people who paid for all this with their sufferings. And they have paid not for the first time either.

"Your fathers and grandfathers suffered from injustice and lived through the tragedy of the Stalinist deportation. The people had to shoulder all the hardships of the forced migration which resulted in many human lives. And it is ordinary Chechens who have to restore today their ruined economy and their national culture.

"The Constitution will give the people of Chechnya the opportunity to independently bring their life back to normal and to put into practice that broad autonomy, as a part of the Russian Federation, about which people are talking so much today. With this aim in view, a special treaty will be jointly drafted and concluded between the Federation and the Republic.

"And we must achieve the situation when the citizens of Russia - the inhabitants of Chechnya - will no longer live in fear, will no longer be afraid of a knock at the door at night and will not have to hide during so-called mop-up operations. The people of Chechnya must live a worthy life.

"You know: cuts in the number of checkpoints in the republic have begun. But where they still exist, they must not be involved in extortions from civilians, but must carry out absolutely different functions - the functions of combating crime.

"You also know: superfluous units of the Defence Ministry and the Interior Ministry are being withdrawn from Chechnya. With time, only permanently deployed units will remain in the republic, and their main aim will be to support local law enforcement bodies, i.e., Interior Ministry bodies of the Chechen Republic itself.

"Our special concern is to restore the republic's economy. We understand: the republic needs the maximum assistance and support to rise from economic collapse.

"Chechnya really lives in special conditions - in conditions of restoration. Therefore, it is very important to revive, as soon as possible, the enterprises which are vitally important for people. Hence it is necessary to help those enterprises which directly produce foodstuffs, essentials and construction materials. It is necessary to support the enterprises building houses, schools, hospitals and cultural facilities.

"I would like to say that the federal government has already allocated considerable sums of money to the republic. And today it is our task to make sure they are used effectively.

"I know that in this connection there are also serious questions for both the federal government and the republican administration to face. Many problems in the course of the restoration work arise due to bureaucracy and corruption. I have already said that the referendum will open a way towards the formation of new bodies of power. And one of the most important tasks now is to control the spending of the money allocated from the budget.

"However, I would like to add here: no appreciable results will be achieved without the active participation in the restoration work of the Chechens themselves, without their real desire to take part in it.

"It is also necessary for us to start properly using the rich natural resources of Chechnya and especially its unique oil. The first steps have already been taken in the restoration of Chechnya's petro-chemical sector. This wealth must be turned into a powerful resource to solve social and economic problems.

"The Russian government is now preparing to start paying compensation for destroyed housing. According to preliminary estimations, about 280,000 inhabitants have been left without a roof over their head. At the present time, it is necessary together, with the participation of local administrations, to check the lists of all those who have lost their housing. Compensation payments should start this year.

"I would like to stress once again: the people's everyday life today is the authorities' main concern. The people in Chechnya, just as in the rest of Russia, must be able to live a normal life, to relax, have good medical care, and to bring up and teach their children.

"I must say that the children of Chechnya is our special worry. They have had to go through experiences which children should not have to. In the past few years a whole generation of young people has grown up in the republic without the chance of receiving a normal education. They have been deprived of the most elementary, the most necessary things.

"But the Chechen children, just like the children of the whole of Russia, are our future. And we can give them a good education - and we shall do it - we shall provide them with good knowledge and we shall give them a start in life.

"The adoption of the Constitution is, indeed, a serious event. It is that very moment when the people of Chechnya will take their own fate into their hands.

"And today the future of your children and your grandchildren is in your hands. Just as the future of Chechnya itself is.

"For this reason, I call upon you to take part in the referendum and to make the correct choice.

"Thank you for your attention."